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Science

UC Engineers Want to Base Military Armor on Three-Layer Supershell of Mantis Shrimp

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Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 2:30 PM
click to enlarge Is this stomatopod the key to U.S. domination? - WIKIPEDIA
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  • Is this stomatopod the key to U.S. domination?

UC Riverside just got 20 times more impressive.

Engineers at the oft-overlooked UC campus are reportedly thinking up a new type of body armor that would be one-third the weight and capable of deflecting 50,000 bullets. But the most fascinating aspect of their research is the model: a notorious dude called the mantis shrimp, otherwise known as "prawn killer."

Although just four inches in length, this badass crustacean can pummel any taker...

... thanks to its fist-like hands, called "clubs," which kind of resemble permanent boxing gloves. They may look dorky, but these things are the steel wrecking balls of the future, says the UC Riverside press office:

[Researchers] found that the club is a highly complex structure, comprised of three specialized regions that work together to create a structure tougher than many engineered ceramics.

The first region, located at the impacting surface of the club, contains a high concentration of mineral, similar to that found in human bone, which supports the impact when the mantis shrimp strikes prey. Further inside, highly organized and rotated layers of chitin (a complex sugar) fibers dispersed in mineral act as a shock absorber, absorbing energy as stress waves pass through the club. Finally, the club is encapsulated on its sides by oriented chitin fibers, which wrap around the club, keeping it intact during these high velocity impacts.

Damn. Head researcher David Kisailus, who has the most awesome job description in history (he reportedly "studies the structures of marine animals for inspiration to develop new materials"), says his little sea muse is so strong that he has to keep it in a special aquarium or it'll break through the glass.

On that note, it's probably time to watch a mantis shrimp demolish a clam on YouTube:

And while we're at it, how about some mantis vs. crayfish?

Kisailus describes the shrimp's club as "stiff, yet... lightweight and tough, making it incredibly impact tolerant and, interestingly, shock resistant. That's the holy grail for materials engineers."

We've contacted the researcher for more on how those tiny indestructible boxing gloves might be re-imagined into human body armor -- what materials he's thinking to use, etc.

But according to the UC, Kisailus and his team are looking to apply the three-layer supershell to more than just armor.

For example, with electric cars less weight will reduce power consumption and increase driving range. With airplanes, less weight would reduce fuel costs and better impact resistance would improve reliability and cut repair bills.

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